From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Two Bimbo Workers Dead, Others Fired After Raising COVID-19 Concerns at Cicero Factory
Date June 1, 2020 2:44 AM
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[These Cicero workers are joining a growing chorus of essential
workers around the country at places like Amazon, Walmart, and Target
who are demanding stronger protections on the job amidst an ever
worsening COVID-19 crisis] [[link removed]]

TWO BIMBO WORKERS DEAD, OTHERS FIRED AFTER RAISING COVID-19 CONCERNS
AT CICERO FACTORY   [[link removed]]

 

Ankur Singh
May 29, 2020
Cicero Independiente
[[link removed]]


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_ These Cicero workers are joining a growing chorus of essential
workers around the country at places like Amazon, Walmart, and Target
who are demanding stronger protections on the job amidst an ever
worsening COVID-19 crisis _

A caravan protest organized by Black Workers Matter at the Bimbo
Bakery USA in Cicero, IL that took place on April 14th, 2020. , Paul
Goyette

 

Two workers who were employed at Bimbo Bakeries USA’s Cicero factory
have passed away due to COVID-19, according to records from the Cook
County Medical Examiner’s Office. 

Their deaths come after the company fired two other employees who were
quoted in a Cicero Independiente article published on April 7
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raising concerns about the lack of workplace safety during the
COVID-19 crisis. 

One worker, who requested to be anonymous out of fears of retaliation,
hasn’t returned to work since the last week of March due to having
an underlying health condition. The worker recalls the last instance
they interacted with a particular colleague and who at the time
appeared perfectly healthy. 

Two weeks later on April 16 that same colleague died from COVID-19,
according to records from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s
Office. 

Cicero Independiente is not naming the worker who passed away out of
respect for the family’s privacy. 

“I was shocked and hurt because I consider [them] a friend,” the
worker said. “I used to talk to [them] all the time.”

_Maria Almanza describes her mother Rosa as someone who was always
happy, always laughing and making jokes. “She was friendly with
everybody,” said Almanza (Photo courtesy of Maria Almanza)._

On May 4, Rosa Almanza, another employee at the Cicero factory who
worked there for about a year also passed away from
COVID-19. 

“She was a nice person with a big heart,” said her daughter Maria
Almanza. “If you needed help she would help you. She was so kind.”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Almanza says her mother would
tell her that Bimbo Bakeries USA wasn’t providing workers with
gloves or masks or doing proper sanitation. “For me it’s their
fault that my mom died,” she said.

“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of two associates who worked
at our Cicero Bakery,” Bimbo Bakeries USA said in a statement. “We
can confirm that the individuals last worked March 24 and April 20.
Our hearts go out to both associates’ loved ones.”

According to Almanza, both her father and brother who lived with her
mother have also tested positive for COVID-19 and have been in and out
of the hospital.

“I have a lot of anxiety and I can’t sleep,” said Almanza.
“I’m always thinking of my mom. I love my mom and it hurts so bad
that she’s gone.”

Prior to the two deaths, Bimbo Bakery USA workers, many of whom are
organizing with a group called Black Workers Matter, accused the
company’s Cicero factory of lacking proper sanitation, failing to
enforce social distancing, and being slow to communicate when
employees tested positive for COVID-19. 

“I cried. I really cried,” said Dennean Paul, a worker in the
sanitation department. “It’s really sad because all this could
have been avoided if they [Bimbo] just closed down the plant and
cleaned.”

Workers are also protesting what they say was an act of retaliation
from Bimbo Bakeries USA.

When Cicero Independiente published a story on April 7 highlighting
the employees’ complaints, two days later the company fired Gerardo
Mello, one of the workers featured in the article. 

“Mr. Mello was terminated for making a false statement about the
safety measures we have implemented at the Cicero Bakery,” said
Bimbo Bakeries USA in a statement. 

Paul, who was also quoted in the April 7 article, was fired too. A
week after the article was published Paul says she was injured while
working. She hurt her back and felt heavy pain through to her foot and
ended up going to the emergency room at MacNeal Hospital on April
13. 

According to medical records she was advised by the hospital not to
return to work until she was reevaluated by a physician. Paul was
given a variety of medications that cause drowsiness and make her
unable to operate machinery or do heavy lifting. On April 16 she saw
another doctor who also issued a note excusing her from work. 

After staying home for several days to recover, Paul was fired on
April 27.

“Ms. Paul was terminated for repeatedly failing to report to work,
failing to report her absences to the company and failing to provide
any documentation to support those absences,” the company stated.

“I know it’s not about attendance, it’s about retaliation,”
Paul said. “It doesn’t surprise me...it’s sad they did me like
they did. I’ve been there three years and was dedicated.”

“We regard retaliation against workers for raising safety concerns
(in a pandemic) as an attack on all of us and that it will not be
tolerated by Black Workers Matter or us in the community,” Black
Workers Matter said in a statement. “We believe Bimbo is risking the
health and lives of us--the workers and community members (including
Bimbo customers) with which we live.”

Paul has since filed a formal complaint
[[link removed]] with the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency which is responsible for
enforcing U.S. labor law. Under the NLRB workers are protected from
threats and retaliation
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by their employer for advocating for better working conditions.

“Neither Mr. Mello nor Ms. Paul were terminated for raising health
and safety concerns or for talking with a reporter,” said Bimbo
Bakeries USA in a statement. “We categorically deny any violations
of the National Labor Relations Act.”

Shortly after Mello was fired, workers and their allies rallied
outside the Cicero facility on Tuesday, April 14 to protest the
alleged health violations and retaliation. About two dozen cars
honking their horns circled the parking lot with signs such as
“Bimbo: We Won’t Die For Profit” and “Public Safety = Worker
Safety.”

Since the Bimbo Bakery workers began making their complaints the
company has instituted some new changes to increase safety.

According to Bimbo Bakeries USA the Cicero facility does weekly deep
cleaning and disinfection of bakery lines and commonly touched
surfaces. They are now taking the temperature of each individual
entering the facility and those with a temperature of 100 degrees or
above are not permitted to enter. The company is providing face masks
and shields to all employees and have “added the services of a nurse
who is also available to all associates at the Cicero bakery.” 

“To encourage associates to stay home when sick, we have implemented
COVID-19 pay and attendance policies,” their statement reads.

Despite the new protocols, many workers believe the changes are too
little too late.

“We expect Bimbo to be ahead of the curve, not the end of the
curve,” said Dan Giloth, an organizer with Black Workers Matter.
“They have plenty of resources to be leaders, instead they’re
dragging their feet as if this is all new to them.”

According to Giloth, Bimbo Bakeries USA “continues to operate as if
it’s business as usual,” with factory lines continuing to run at
normal production speeds. “Normal line speeds means normal
crowding,” said Giloth.

The Town of Cicero previously told Cicero Independiente
[[link removed]]
that they have conducted multiple inspections of the Cicero facility
and found that Bimbo Bakeries USA was enforcing proper sanitation and
social distancing guidelines as recommended by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. A spokesperson for the Town did not respond to
request for comment.

The union representing Bimbo Bakeries USA workers at the Cicero
factory could not be reached for comment. 

Cicero has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in suburban Cook
County, with 2,988 people tested positive and 57 deaths as of May
28. 

Workers at United Scrap Metal
[[link removed]],
another factory just down the street from Bimbo Bakeries USA, also
recently held a protest alleging similar workplace health and safety
violations. 

These Cicero workers are joining a growing chorus of essential workers
around the country at places like Amazon, Walmart, and Target
[[link removed]]
who are demanding stronger protections on the job amidst an ever
worsening COVID-19 crisis and as Congress begins negotiations on a new
stimulus bill
[[link removed]]
aimed to address the economic impact of the pandemic. 

In the meantime, the Bimbo Bakeries USA workers plan to continue
pushing their demands for a safer workplace.

“It seems like a total shut down and deep clean needs to take
place,” said the anonymous worker. “I’m afraid to go back to
work...it’s not worth risking your life for muffins.”

“This is something that is going to affect us for the rest of our
lives,” said Paul. “We will never forget something like this.”



_Additional reporting by Irene Romulo_

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